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The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin

The Aviator's Wife

How much do you know about Anne Morrow Lindbergh, wife of the famous aviator Charles Lindbergh?  In this work of historical fiction, Melanie Benjamin seeks to unfold the drama of this famous woman’s life and give the reader a glimpse of a woman who showed amazing courage and resilience during her turbulent life.

While I enjoyed the book, it might disappoint historical fiction purists.  Benjamin was going for the emotional effect here, and not historical accuracy.  This probably gives it more broad appeal, but for me lowered it to the ranks of a “beach read.”

*Spoiler Alert*
Don’t read any further if you don’t know much about the Lindbergh family.  If you already know the story, read on!

When I began reading, I already knew about Lindbergh, his famous flight to Paris, and his antisemitic, pro-Nazi sympathies during World War II.  Of course, I also knew about the famous kidnapping/murder case of his first-born son.  What I didn’t know, was that Lindbergh was a philanderer who fathered seven illegitimate children.  But this novel, while revealing the real Charles Lindbergh, also serves to lift up his wife Anne.  She didn’t fit the mold of the typical 1930’s newlywed.  She was an aviatrix herself, a college graduate, an accomplished author, and she managed to keep up a household for 5 living children and a husband who rarely graced her doorstep.  All this she did in the midst of terrible losses and a complete lack of privacy.  Anne Morrow Lindbergh was very impressive lady indeed.

3 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2013
402 pages

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The Woman In White by Wilkie Collins

The Woman In White

Once hailed as “great trash” by literary critic Edward Bulwer-Lytton, The Woman in White became a favorite with readers not just in 1860, when it was published, but for more than one hundred years to follow.

The novel opens with a narration by the character Walter Hartright.  He is a drawing teacher, hired to instruct Miss Laura Fairlie and her friend, Marian Halcombe.  As Hartright’s tale unfolds, we learn that Miss Fairlie is to be married to Sir Percival Glyde, but receives a ominous letter warning her not to go ahead with the marriage.

I wasn’t aware that this novel was one of the earliest mysteries published.  It gives one a great appreciation for the methods Collins uses to create suspense.  He does this by dividing the novel, not just into chapters, but through the use of different narrators.  Each storyteller gives the reader a different perspective on the characters and the events.

Who was the woman in white?  Why does Anne Catherick warn Laura Fairlie against marrying Sir Percival Glyde? Is Marian Halcombe able to help her dear friend?

All of these questions and more are answered in the pages of The Woman in White.

4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 1860
672 pages

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Tai-Pan by James Clavell

Tai Pan

Tai-Pan is the second novel in James Clavell’s Asian Saga series, but it’s definitely not a sequel to Shogun.  Rest assured, however, that Tai-Pan is every bit a page-turner as the former novel, and I have to admit, I liked Tai-Pan even better.

The novel takes place in the early nineteenth century, when Hong Kong has just become part of the British Empire.  English traders, including Dirk Struan (the Tai-Pan of Noble House) gamble with the future of Chinese/English trade in the midst of political upheaval in their British homeland and in China itself.

Clavell truly outdid himself with the plot development of Tai-PanI especially enjoyed the intrigue and romantic similarities to Romeo and Juliet with warring houses and ill-fated love.

4 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 1983
732 pages

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Neil Armstrong by Jay Barbree

Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong: A Life of Flight

I enjoyed Barbree’s “Moon Shot“, so I thought this would be a good biography of Neil Armstrong. With Barbree’s experience of covering the space program for NBC, and his friendship with Armstrong, I had high hopes for “A Life in Flight.” Unfortunately, this book is deeply disappointing. The writing was poor- a third grade level at best. It failed Armstrong as it mostly covered his work as a test pilot and astronaut, and even then didn’t cover much detail. It covers no new ground. The last section had little to do with Armstrong other than as an interest Armstrong championed. I get the feeling this book was rushed out to take advantage of Armstrong’s recent passing. (August 25, 2012)

C-
384 pages

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What The Dog Saw by Malcom Gladwell

What The Dog Saw

What The Dog Saw: And Other Adventures is a compilation of the Gladwell’s best work from The New Yorker. Gladwell has been a staff writer since 1996. Because they’re short pieces the book lacks the grand themes of his other books. But it also means you can read a chapter in a short period of time and be entertained. “What The Dog Saw” is divided into three Sections: 1. Obsessives, Pioneers, and Other Varieties of Minor Genius; 2. Theories, Predictions, and Diagnoses; 3. Personality, Character, and Intelligence.

Section One covers Ron Popeil, Ketchup, Taleb and the Black Swan, Hair Dye, birth control, and Cesar Millan- the dog whisperer. Section Two covers information theory: homelessness, photography, plagiarism, national intelligence reform, choking vs. panicking, and the Challenger Explosion. Section Three covers: What is genius, hiring practices, criminal profiling, the myth of talent, interviews, and pit bulls. All of these chapters were interesting in their own way. I would certainly read and other compilation book if Gladwell were to release one.

B
444 pages

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Life Studies by Susan Vreeland

Life Studies

I had enjoyed Girl In Hyacinth Blue, Vreeland’s work of historical fiction based on the painter, Vermeer, so I was eager to read more.  Unfortunately, I did not enjoy Life Studies at all.  It’s a series of short stories featuring a glimpse into the lives of several painters, mostly French impressionists.  The stories, however, were mostly about their wives and lovers, and not very interesting at all.  I found myself skimming towards the latter part of the book, because I just wanted to move on to another, better novel.

1 star (out of 5)
Published in 2005
352 pages

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